D&D 5E The skill system is one dimensional.

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
5e more or less didn't give DMs seriously designed optional or variant rules for tables who did want more complex or gamey skill play in their DMG. And 10 years later, still doesn't and ceded that to 3PPs and internet GM posters. Not like they wouldn't sell either. Good skills options might have boosted book sales by a lot.
I don't disagree about what WotC hasn't done. But I also don't know if I agree that it's something WotC should need to do. Ceding certain things to 3PPs and internet GMs is how I personally think a lot of things could and should probably go.

As far boosting sales by having more skill options? That's a statement that neither side would ever be able to prove one way or the other, so I'm not even going to try and speculate. I would most certainly just be talking about my rear end. :)
 

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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
There's a trope I've run across in a lot of Chinese costume dramas that I hadn't seen before that pointedly allows for this. Authority, particularly military authority, is routinely invested in an object. The emperor might be the one who gives you the command medallion for the western army, but once you have it, presenting it does give you the ability to command those soldiers to storm the palace.

It's a bit cinematic and silly, but it is an interesting conceit for a game.
That's how one of my settings' premise is. The Emperor gave these one guy an Imperial Seal. And a thief hided by a king within the Empire stole another. And they simultaneously rebelled and let the Barbaric Orcs and Hobgoblin Armies march to the Capital. The PCs are hired by the Empire to get one of the Seals back.

The Seals are magic items that give you long distance telepathy and skill/throw rerolls vs anyone in the Empire. Even Imperial Rebels.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
That depends entirely on how it's structured. For example if you know how long a particular check will take then an obvious upgrade to that skill is to make that time shorter. If you know the range, then make the range longer. As long as the system has more detail than zero, then it's always possible to improve them.

A bunch of my examples even ignore rolls entirely. Look at my example post with movement speeds in them. You could make a movement related skill that, as you advance it, you move faster, become a better swimmer, become a better climber.
I agree, but that didn’t stop the complaints in the PF2 forum here. 😩

Skill feats are kinda what I'm after, but I feel their implementation is a bit too complicated and niche.
I don’t know that I’d call them niche (because everyone has to take them separately from their ancestry and class feats), but complicated is a fair take. The core of PF2 is pretty clean and simple, but the stuff built out from it can interact in complex ways.

Yes kinda. The problem I see with skill feats is that they are still quite separate from the skill system. I think for me they feel a bit tacked on. The system is still based on checks and modifiers
PF2 seems to suffer from conflicting priorities. On one hand, the skill system is comprised of a number of skill actions. Skill feats expand and modify this list. While the default set of actions do use skill checks, skill feats don’t have to use them (and some don’t). However, on the other hand, players can make ad hoc skill checks if the GM says they can, so needing to protect that capability means there are limits on the scope of what skill feats can do (and people still complain about them).
 

Pedantic

Legend
I can understand the desire and am not against it as a matter of course-- I just don't know if the game benefits necessarily from trying to finalize the ideas you propose, because too many players and DM want to play their games at all manner of level? So using your example, telling DMs that heists aren't appropriate until the PCs are X level seems to be blocking off adventure types for no real reason-- other than thinking that new players wouldn't be able to understand the concepts intrinsic to heists in D&D until they've played enough D&D to reach level X.

Fundamentally I grok what you are saying, and to a certain extent I get where and why you are going that way. And I'm not completely opposed to it. It seems like the same sort of way of thinking that tell us that "planar travel" is meant to be a Tier 3 or Tier 4 adventure type and not something that Tier 1 or 2 characters should undertake. And from a teaching model I completely understand why the game or any of us might say that... but I don't know if that's truly necessary to make a hard and fast rule in the books? Or if the books choose to do so FOR that teaching model, at the very least it should make clear that it isn't a hard and fast rule and that certain DMs and campaigns can sent the PCs to other planes starting at level 1. Just like certain types of obstacles and challenges that are overcome by the Ability Score / Skills system are perhaps more meaningful at certain levels / tiers... but no DM needs to be beholden to them.
I think we can actually trace a lot of issues that pop up regularly in D&D discourse to not having it spelled out that way. Take the classic difficulty with high level play: this kind of design requires you to actually say what you're supposed to be doing there, and tells you explicitly which kinds of challenges won't scale to those levels. A lot of frustration seems to come from trying to use challenges that don't scale because high levels tend to be more superheroic than a lot of source material. That, and how many times have we read something like "my players used Fly/Stoneshape/Massive Persuasion checks to trivialize my encounter!" threads? Clearly DMs are routinely surprised by their player's capabilities, which suggests they need more advice on what precisely those capabilities should be.

Plus, if we move away from DMing being the work of game design to the work of encouner design and worldbuilding, then the exceptions you discuss can be signposted and addressed as well. Sigil exists primarily as a relatively low-level friendly place to do planar adventuring, and you can imagine a design/DM sidebar that lays out the steps that make it so (accessible portals, safe havens away from high level violence, etc.) Similarly, you can do whole worldbuilding shifts by messing with established skill DCs if you write them down. You can imagine a wuxia setting significantly decreasing Acrobatics and/or Athletics DCs across the board to represent omnipresent lightness techniques.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Sound a lot like Castles & Crusades. I kind of like it, but it does result in weird scenarios where Wisdom-based classes like Clerics are suddenly better than rangers at tracking and wilderness survival.
You could just change the ranger's proficient abilities to better match the class fiction.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
To some degree, this is an unavoidable responsibility of DMing. You have to decide if the fortification wall is made of wood or stone, and whether it's smooth or rough and all of that will produce a climb DC. Some of that comes down to professional responsibility to make those decisions based on some consistent set of criteria (internally consistent worldbuilding, scaling player capability, extrapolation from some standard, there's several approaches that can work here). Beyond that, I think this can and should be mitigated in a few ways.
See below for explication, but I think the primary concern is scaling with some affordance made for consistency with worldbuilding. Given that, scaling DCs make some sense. If you want a number that fits the current context, it’s a lot easier to provide a scale and let the DM make up something appropriate than it is to provide a menu of options wirth the required numbers. (I do think numbers should be knowable by the PCs even in a scaled DC systems. Otherwise, you can’t reason about the approaches available to you, and it makes resolution less immediate, and that contribute to the fun.)

Firstly, I think it's incorrect to evaluate obstacles in terms of their difficulty in the way you're proposing here, and judging from the bolded bit, I think you largely agree. Obstacles should not scale in magnitude, but in kind to match increased player capability as levels increase. With a broad enough RNG, it's reasonable to have several grade of "gate" but that does not mean the conceit of "a locked portcullis in a sturdy wall" should produce a DC that's uncertain at all levels of play. It's fine and appropriate that there is a point that task falls off the RNG, and Take 10/20 help here, by making that a transition through 3 states. Initially it can be achieved at maximum effort given uninterrupted time (Take 20), then it can be achieved when not under immediate stress or perhaps by a character with a specialist feature, and finally it is not longer a challenge. Rolling becomes a risk you take when you have to, either because you're pushing the boundaries of what you can do, or because a situation is out of your control.
My assumption is the DM will be picking obstacles the same way they do monsters, which is by evaluating what’s available at the intended level of difficulty. The party is Xth level, which requires a set of CR Yth level monsters for some particular amount of challenge, and I want those to be undead, so I can pick from Z options. For that same Xth level party, if the DM wanted to include a trap or barrier, then the DM is going to look at things of the intended difficulty and pick from that list. In a sense, these things are helping to reinforce the game’s intended milieu by ensuring the challenges match what the characters are capable of doing.

As you intuit, I’m not a fan of the progression treadmill. I prefer the approaches used in old-school games and static DCs like PbtA games. As you get better, you get better. If done well, your journey in competence goes from requiring a lot of help (and risk of consequences) to being self-sufficient (or nearly close to it). That’s how it worked in our Blades in the Dark game. In the beginning, we had to work together, push ourselves, and take devils’ bargains. By the end, we were doing solo scores and taking on big things by ourselves. I like that much better as a form of progression than what amounts to doing the same thing at higher levels but described more fantastically.

Secondly, many skill DCs should be attached to player facing abilities, not to obstacles in the world at large. If a player is provided the ability to "climb any sheer surface at half speed" by a DC X check, then the decision making is entirely out of the DM's hands. More abilities granted through the skill system should be declarative; that's exactly what spells do.
Non-combat specialities are a WIP in my homebrew system, but that’s how things work thanks to static DCs. If you want to make a map of an area you explored (thus allowing you to find it again without having to navigate back), you make a Skill Check using Cartography + Wisdom. If you want to cast from a scroll, that’s Scroll Use + Intellect. Spells work the same way as skills, but they use your Mage rank the method instead of a skill. That avoids the problem of spells being categorically better than skills. You’ll still want to invest in skills because there are trade-offs to using spells. They cost MP, which you can only recover normally with MP potions (that cost stress to consume) or by using a weekly downtime activity; and your Mage rank is derived from your level, but skills are bought with EXP and have a maximum rank of +5 that’s independent of level.

Once we stop conceiving as a DC 25 roll as "hard" and instead as "the requirement to use the 'open magical locks' power" the skill system moves away from a loop of the DM picking a difficulty and players tugging at the slots to see if they win the action they want. Designing a hard challenge means not picking numbers that players will achieve approximately 60% of the time, and instead in devising a situation that will require a novel use of their abilities (ideally iterated over time) to overcome.
I like this approach. It’s similar to the argument that old-school skills were actually providing you with something more than the baseline. A thief who uses Move Silently is not just sneaking about but is in actuality completely silent upon success. I don’t now how common that view was though at the time, and I think the idea of using that approach in a modern D&D-like might be a tough sell for some. (See also: the complaints people have about skill feats in PF2.)
 

A lot of frustration seems to come from trying to use challenges that don't scale because high levels tend to be more superheroic than a lot of source material. That, and how many times have we read something like "my players used Fly/Stoneshape/Massive Persuasion checks to trivialize my encounter!" threads? Clearly DMs are routinely surprised by their player's capabilities, which suggests they need more advice on what precisely those capabilities should be.
No offense but this comes from three things:
  • The DM not knowing the powers of their players because they haven't been a player or failed to read what their players could do.
  • The DM does not completely understand the creatures and/or scenario; therefore, they start making crap up which results in things like fudging die rolls, ballooning hit points mid fight, making damage greater than what it actually is, and/or increasing the number of baddies on a whim. All because they failed to actually understand or thoroughly think about how the encounter would play out.
  • The DM fails to look for advice elsewhere. Buy an adventure path for Christ's sake and read it. It has all types of encounters in there that are appropriate.

And I get inexperienced DMs making this mistake. But if they have read and done their homework, those mistakes will much less than their successes. And, at times, even experienced DMs flub it. That's fine too. We've probably all had some great big baddie we spent hours creating or crafting a story around die in one round. That's ok. It happens. But consistent error does not happen if the DM is willing to learn.
 

nevin

Hero
Imagine that you had a spell and you wanted to create an upgraded version of that spell for a higher level spell slot, this spell need not be identical to the previous one, but it needs to feel thematically related. You can start by just looking at the spell you want to upgrade and consider some parameters. You might increase damage, you might change casting time, you might change duration etc. etc in short there are plenty of different ways you can change this spell.

Consider Fireball vs Delayed Blast Fireball. One is an upgraded version of the other spell at a higher level and with several things having changed.

They didn't just change the DC.

When you think about this system and how to improve components of it, it is natural to think of things changing in more than a single way.

Skills, though, are not like this. All skills are one dimensional, they only upgrade in one single way. Whoah +10 athletics! Amazing! No it's just that you're slightly more likely to pass that DC whatever check than if you had a +9. Yeah sure the number is higher but what does it do? What actually changes? Nothing. In my opinion this design is bad. It's particularily annoying because it makes people think about their skills as just numbers, which is quite different from how people think about spells.

A low level wizard knows that at a higher level he will be able to cast wish or dimension door. A low level fighter knows that at a higher level he will be slightly more likely to succeed a DC 18 athletics check.

In my opinion the current system is excessively granular while at the same time considering improvements only along one dimension. It's focused on maximising this one single number that represents how likely you are to succeed if you use that skill. It's uninteresting. Isn't it more interesting to think about skills as something that changes how you can interact with the world? It's not interesting to know that you have a 50% chance of picking this one lock, but it's interesting to know that you have a 50% chance of picking that lock without any tools at hand, just using your hands and nothing else.

The bard is so good at card tricks that he can fascinate his audience. The fighter is a master of athletics, he can swim in full plate with no effort. The paladin can intimidate armies alone. The wizard can copy any book from memory that he has read once. But D&D is too focused on these tiny numbers and how they improve by 1 or 2 now and then and then giving us pages upon pages of spells, but barely anything skill related.
less is more if they do this. I'd like to see some axis that gives certain classes benefits on certain categories of skill checks. I'd like to see an axis of skills that are considered Artisinal and no PC can ever master or put on thier character sheet because they don't stay home and do it full time. I'd like to see an axis of anyone can do this untrained at a basic to intermediate level because everyone should have some knowledge or experience in things like that just growing up and existing. But it's got to be kept simple or it just becomes another nightmare like the current spell lists.
 

nevin

Hero
No offense but this comes from three things:
  • The DM not knowing the powers of their players because they haven't been a player or failed to read what their players could do.
  • The DM does not completely understand the creatures and/or scenario; therefore, they start making crap up which results in things like fudging die rolls, ballooning hit points mid fight, making damage greater than what it actually is, and/or increasing the number of baddies on a whim. All because they failed to actually understand or thoroughly think about how the encounter would play out.
  • The DM fails to look for advice elsewhere. Buy an adventure path for Christ's sake and read it. It has all types of encounters in there that are appropriate.

And I get inexperienced DMs making this mistake. But if they have read and done their homework, those mistakes will much less than their successes. And, at times, even experienced DMs flub it. That's fine too. We've probably all had some great big baddie we spent hours creating or crafting a story around die in one round. That's ok. It happens. But consistent error does not happen if the DM is willing to learn.
I'll agree with everything but the Adventure path advice. Adventure Path advice only works if the party is of standard build and abilities. take away any one expected class and thier abilities and your DM who hasn't been on top of things won't be any better off with adventure path stuff.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I'm of the opinion that pretty much most of these questions/concerns/wants/needs come down to players and DMs both wanting to play the game in a certain way... and just not trusting the other side to follow them or play that way too.

Why do so many DMs get angry about so many species with Darkvision? Because they want to run their games in such a way that having monsters hiding out in the darkness and then being able to surprise and attack the players from the darkness without the players noticing them is a story they want to tell. But if all the players play species with Darkvision... that's them telling the DM "We don't like that story, so we are deliberately choosing options that stop us from having to be handed that story."

In the better case scenario... the DM would just say "Okay!" and not care that all the PCs have Darkvision and stop worrying about trying to set up stories where monsters attack the characters from the darkness. But usually the DM just gets annoyed that that maneuver is now off the table and they decry WotC for making that removal possible.

Likewise... a player who wants an advanced skill system that can make a declaration in the fiction (via chart or table) that says they have a 100% success rate in bending/breaking bars is telling the DM that getting caught behind minor and arbitrary barriers like gates or portculli is not fun. Same thing for the wizard player who takes Misty Step as a spell. They both find coming up against these barriers and being unable to get past them to be annoying and stupid and they want abilities/skills/rules that allow them to just easily bypass them without even having to roll a die.

In the better case scenario... the DM would not fight against their player's wishes and instead just cut back or eliminate using these arbitrary hurdles and roadblocks in their stories altogether. The game doesn't HAVE to have iron gates or locked doors or things that block passages. You CAN remove them. It's no big deal. And the DM can just choose to play into that story fantasy of the character just bypassing or avoiding gates quickly and easily rather than constantly trying to block it. The PC Rogue character that has taken Proficiency, Expertise, and has Advantage on Thieves' Tools? They're telling the DM that they want to be able to get past most locked/barred doors and obstacles quickly and easily (either because it makes them feel cool to be able to do so, and/or because they find those obstacles to advancing the story to be irritating to constantly be stuck behind.) No DM worth their salt should fight against that. The DM can just as easily find other types of obstacles to throw up against the party instead.

PC wants a species that can fly? It tells us they don't care about story hurdles that involve being unable to access certain areas. So DMs should just stop using them as story fodder. PC takes Proficiency, Expertise, and Advantage in Perception? It tells us that they've probably been burned so many times by DMs constantly "taking them by surprise" (because it's fun for the DM?) that they don't want to be surprised ever again. PC ever and always has 'Comprehend Languages' and 'Tongues' prepared as spells? They probably are tired of the "can't understand the person they're speaking to" story trope and want to get around it if the DM constantly tries to use it.

Even without being told, a DM should be able to get a pretty good sense of what their players are looking for in the game and the story based on how those players have built their characters. And the DM can either following along with the players and not use those tired roadblocks the PC have deliberately been built to get around... or they can just play their own game and not give a rat's ass about their players and keep banging their (and the player's) heads against a wall throwing up more and more ridiculous uses of those tropes just because.

At some point both sides need to just come to an accord about what is truly meaningful and fun for everyone in the game of Dungeons & Dragons.

thats a really unfun way of looking at things, and not only makes the role of DM pointless But also entirely overrides player agency.

If I’m a wizard taking Misty step its because its a cool power that lets me overcome an obstacle, not because I dont want to face obstacles but because I want to feel awesome when I overcome the challenge - be creative in giving me more of those challenges so I can creatively overcome them.
Same if I’m taking expertise in perception - its because I want to be a hawkeye who spots details others miss. A DM who determines my Perception ability means “this guy has really good perception so doesnt want me to add anything to the game for him to find’ has entirely over ridden player agency and made the game worse.
 

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